Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hitchens versus Vidal

I usually read Spencer Ackerman's blog posts because he's witty and wise. Today he linked to a Christopher Hitchens piece on H's former friend Gore Vidal. Hard to imagine egos of their size fitting into any public facility short of a football stadium. For a time I admired Vidal's courage but soon enough I came to see him as a singularly arrogant elitist, much like his arch enemy Wm Buckley, whose portentous verbal mannerisms covered up a trite and inane mind. I also once liked Hitchens for his courage, too. But he turned right abruptly following 9/11 and trumpeted the Iraq war. The hell of it is Hitchens has a first-rate mind in matters ranging from politics to art to popular culture. I still read him and think he's brilliant from time to time. Except when he puts on that old pith-helmet and plays John Wayne (who was after all a draft-dodger).

Spencer Ackerman summed up the Hitchens vs. Vidal piece this way (accurately): "The best case of un-self-conscious projection on the internet at the moment."

Here's a sample.

"I was fortunate enough to know Gore a bit in those days. The price of knowing him was exposure to some of his less adorable traits, which included his pachydermatous memory for the least slight or grudge and a very, very minor tendency to bring up the Jewish question in contexts where it didn’t quite belong. One was made aware, too, that he suspected Franklin Roosevelt of playing a dark hand in bringing on Pearl Harbor and still nurtured an admiration in his breast for the dashing Charles Lindbergh, leader of the American isolationist right in the 1930s. But these tics and eccentricities, which I did criticize in print, seemed more or less under control, and meanwhile he kept on saying things one wished one had said oneself. Of a certain mushy spiritual writer named Idries Shah: “These books are a great deal harder to read than they were to write.” Of a paragraph by Herman Wouk: “This is not at all bad, except as prose.” He once said to me of the late Teddy Kennedy, who was then in his low period of red-faced, engorged, and abandoned boyo-hood, that he exhibited “all the charm of three hundred pounds of condemned veal.” Who but Gore could begin a discussion by saying that the three most dispiriting words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates”? In an interview, he told me that his life’s work was “making sentences.” It would have been more acute to say that he made a career out of pronouncing them."

For the rest go here:

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/02/hitchens-201002

21 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Hitchens, who once took an invitation to write for a magazine I was working on at the time as an insult, and took petty revenge, is most of the reason, along with Sandra Sing-Loh, that I pay any attention to the current ATLANTIC, aside from their summer fiction issue. But yes, he, like Vidal, has managed to put arrongance at least occasionally to good use, and to write fine prose even when the reasoning behind it can be dicey.

I like Oates, but I also like that line about the dread Wouk, whom certain friendly acquaintances of mine for some reason champion.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Throw Norman Mailer into the mix and you really have something special.
Of course there was also the Mary McCarthy-Lillian Hellman feud. So women are not exempt from my penis is bigger than yours contests.

Todd Mason said...

Clit measuring works, too. Wonder if Hammett and Wilson ever found themselves looking across a table at each other, seeing who could empty the bottle faster, while McCarthy and Hellman considered a fistfight across the room.

Hell, Patti, throw the Unreconstructed Stalinist and former magazine-mate of Hitchens Alexander Cockburn into that mix, while you're at it. His niece, Olivia "Wilde," she of HOUSE, lacks the sense of fun to keep her real surname for the marquee, even if it is properly pronouned "coburn."

Deb said...

Both of them seem to think they occupy more space in the public consciousness than they actually do. When Mailer and Buckley ("trite and inane mind" is great characterization, btw) died, I thought Vidal would mellow out, being the remaining "lion," so to speak--but it hasn't happened yet, so I suppose it will not happen at all.

As for Hitchens, he reminds me of the man in Monty Python's Argument Clinic sketch--just taking a contrary position and saying "No it isn't."

The Hellman-McCarthy fued reached its apex when one of them appeared on Dick Cavett(?) and claimed every word the other wrote was "lies--including 'the' and 'a'."

Todd Mason said...

McCarthy on Cavett...Vidal and Mailer were on Cavett's show when Mailer felt the need to insult Cavett, as well, who in his snippy way in turn told Mailer to shove it, much to Vidal's amusement.

Cavett's various shows weren't perfect, by any means, but I did prefer him to Carson.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

I can take Hitchens and his bloviating style when he isn't drunk. Which is like, never.

No one could cross verbal swords with Buckley like Vidal, however.

starluvhie said...

Hitchens versus Vidal ???
:D

Alice Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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